Sunday, February 19, 2012

The "Influenza Plot" at Mountain View Cemetery; Notable flu victims

The "Influenza Plot" at Mountain View Cemetery (photo: Michael Colbruno)
One of the deadliest influenza pandemics in history lasted from June 1918 to December 1920.  Estimates vary widely as to the actual number of deaths, with estimates ranging from 20-100 million people killed. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death in the 14th century. If 50 million people died, it meant that 3% of the world's population was wiped out.

The effect of the influenza epidemic was so severe that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years. The influenza virus had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate of 2.5% compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%.

The flu dominated headlines on October 28, 1918 with conflicting messages, but showing 161 deaths.
Research from frozen tissue samples has concluded that the virus killed through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body's immune system), which perhaps explains its unusually severe nature and the concentrated age profile of its victims. The strong immune system reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths.

Even President Woodrow Wilson suffered from the flu in early 1919 while negotiating the crucial treaty of Versailles to end the World War. Those who were lucky enough to avoid infection had to deal with the public health ordinances to restrain the spread of the disease. The public health departments distributed gauze masks to be worn in public. Stores could not hold sales and funerals were limited to fifteen minutes.

Warren Everett Greer (L), one of Oakland's numerous flu victims

Some towns required a signed certificate to enter and railroads would not accept passengers without them. Those who ignored the flu ordinances had to pay steep fines, which were enforced by police. Bodies pilled up and before long there was a shortage of coffins, morticians and even gravediggers.

In Oakland and San Francisco, the pandemic lasted from about September 1918 to the summer of 1919. However, many people lingered for months before dying. Southern California was hit much harder than Northern California, but over 100,000 masks were still distributed by health officials in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the masks had little to no impact in preventing the spread of the disease. Oakland saw approximately 1,400 deaths out of just over 200,000 residents.

Obituaries from the Oakland Tribune
Many of the burials were placed in Plot 53, which is just north of the Tower Chapel and outdoor garden mausoleum.  If you take a walk through the plot, you'll notice that many of the burials occurred between 1918-1920.

The Oakland Municipal Auditorium was uses as a temporary hospital withvolunteer nurses from the American Red Cross.
(Photo from Oakland Public Library History Room) 

Notable influenza victims buried at Mountain View Cemetery 

Charles James Freeborn
One of the victims of the flu pandemic was Charles James Freeborn, a graduate of Yale University in 1899, where he was a member of the St. Elmo Society. He wasn't buried in the "Influenza Plot," but in his family mausoleum up the hill.

Freeborn was one of the earliest Yale men to volunteer for active service in World War I. He was a Captain in the United States Army, and a recipient of the Croix de Guerre from the French for his service. After the War ended, four years of active service left him too weak to recover from the flu and on February 13, 1919 he died from complications from pneumonia. You can read more about him HERE in one of our previous posts.


Richard M. Stadden (1856-1918) — Stadden was a civil engineer and contractor who worked on railways and harbor projects in the United States and Mexico. He intermittently served as a U.S. representative in Manzanillo, Mexico as both Vice Consul and Consul between 1885 and 1918. In 1914, he was temporarily ordered to leave Mexico after mobs burned the American flag in response to U.S. troops landing in Vera Cruz, Mexico.

He may best be remembered for introducing the Mexican Passion Flower (Passiflora ligularis juss) to the United States in 1911.

He married Hermelinda Soto, a native of Colima, Mexico.

Captain William Shorey

William T. Shorey (1859–1919) was a late 19th Century American whaling ship captain known to his crew as the Black Ahab. He was born in Barbados and spent his life at sea. He became the only black captain operating on the west coast of the United States in the late-1880s and 1890s. His whaling voyages were based out of San Francisco on the whaling bark John and Winthrop. He retired from whaling in 1908 and lived in Oakland until his death from the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919. There is a street name after him in Oakland.

Mt. Wilson in Colorado
A.D. Wilson in 1874 (far right)
A.D. (Allen David) Wilson (1844-1920) enlisted with the Geological Survey of California in 1867.  In July 1868, he joined Clarence King for his Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel and stayed with him through 1872. Wilson then joined Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden and between 1873 and 1878, he triangulated across western Colorado, western Wyoming, and eastern Idaho.

In 1879, Hayden's Survey was merged with others to form the U.S. Geological Survey. Clarence King named Wilson the chief topographer of the USGS.

During the 1890s, Wilson relocated to Oakland, California where he and other civic leaders organized the Athenian Bank (later renamed the Security Bank and Trust of Oakland). In 1918, the bank was absorbed by the Bank of Italy and soon thereafter became the Bank of America. He died of influenza on February 21, 1920 in Oakland.

Newspaper ads showed "cures" for the flu from milk, herbs and chiropractic work